Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has hired a powerful firebrand conservative to be his new chief of staff, a sign he wants to renew his position on the right with an eye on his political future.
Rubio announced Tuesday afternoon that he was bringing on Michael Needham, until recently the head of the powerful Heritage Action for America, to run his Senate office.
That’s a somewhat surprising pairing, given Rubio’s establishment-leaning reputation. Needham has long been a thorn in the side of GOP leaders, cheerleading for the 2013 government shutdown and rabble-rousing against congressional Republicans from the right on a host of issues throughout his career.
The hiring signals that Rubio may be looking to reestablish his once-strong credentials with talk radio conservatives after losing those bona fides by backing bipartisan immigration reform efforts in recent years and emerging as an establishment favorite in the 2016 presidential election before stumbling out of the race.
“Mike brings a wealth of policy, political and management experience that will greatly complement our office’s mission of serving the people of Florida and leading the effort to modernize the conservative movement in the 21st century. Mike understands and shares these goals, and I look forward to his contributions,” Rubio said in a statement.
The two do have some overlapping history. Heritage was a major backer of Rubio back when he was a Tea Party darling in 2010 and forced then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist from the party. So was then-Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who went on to head Heritage and work closely with Needham (sources differ on whether Needham supported DeMint’s ouster at the organization last year).